From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Twenty-Three, Day One
One of the most tender images of Jesus is one he supplied when referring to himself as the Good Shepherd. This name reminds us both of our own vulnerability and Jesus' watchful, protecting care. It evokes a sense of belonging, intimacy, and trust, revealing the Good Shepherd as the One who lays down his life for his sheep. When you pray to the Good Shepherd, you are admitting your need for his care and your confidence in his ability to watch over and protect you.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
His Name Revealed
"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." John 10:1 - 18
Lord, I belong to you and no one else. Thank you for watching over and protecting me as a shepherd cares for his sheep. Help me to listen for your voice, confident that even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will be there with your rod and your staff to comfort me.
Understanding the Name
Scripture uses various metaphors to describe God's people — a temple, a body, a bride, a garden, a vineyard, or a flock of sheep. Shepherding, in fact, was an important occupation in ancient Palestine, practiced by such biblical notables as Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The role of the shepherd was to provide three things for the flock in his care: food, protection, and guidance.
Just as God's people are sometimes described in Scripture as a faithless bride, they are also pictured as a scattered flock. At such times,
their leaders are portrayed as false shepherds who care little for the well-being of the flock entrusted to them. Without a shepherd to watch over them, the sheep scatter, becoming easy prey for wild animals and thieves.
Out of love for his wayward people, God promises to become their Shepherd. The book of Isaiah paints one of the most poignant images of God in the Hebrew Scriptures:
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
Jesus shows us the lengths to which he as the Good Shepherd, or Poimen Kalos (poi-MAIN ka-LOS), will go in order to protect his sheep. Unlike those who merely work for pay, Jesus will never abandon his sheep. Instead, he will defend them with his own life. After his resurrection, Jesus exhorted Peter to follow his example by feeding his sheep. Leaders of the early church were referred to as "pastor," another translation of the Greek word poimen.
Studying the Name
- Why do you think Jesus describes his relationship to his people as Shepherd and sheep?
- This passage from John contains both frightening and comforting images. It is frightening to think that thieves, robbers, and wolves want to prey on the sheep, but comforting to know that Jesus will go to any lengths to protect them. How do these images express spiritual realities?
- The phrase "good shepherd" implies that there are also bad shepherds. How is it possible to tell the difference?
- Describe an experience in which you recognized the voice of Jesus in your own life.
- Describe ways in which Jesus has watched over and protected you as your Shepherd.
For more from Ann Spangler, visit her blogspot on Christianity.com. Be sure to check out Ann's newest book, Praying the Attributes of God: A Daily Guide to Experiencing His Greatness.